Beyond the Abyss

Spoilers: Abyss; Nightwalkers; Out of Mind; Into the Fire; Meridian; Tin Man; Double Jeopardy; Frozen; Tok'ra I & II;

Season: 6. Set right after Nightwalkers.

Summary: He did it for her, but she lost him anyway.

Category: AU; Angst. S/J.

Dedication: For the Serene Lisa

Disclaimer: Not mine. sighs desolately

AN: The result of pain medication. Completely different to how I intended. Still, I hope it works for you :) Feedback would be loved, adored and cherished. And no, I'm not above begging. ;) With thanks to Eva & Feath for the comments, encouragement & Beta.

PART ONE

The phonecall came when she was in the shower, letting the harsh spray of the too-hot water pound into her body and wash away the grime that had built up in that dusty little town. She'd gotten out reluctantly, steam clouds billowing wetly around her hot body, cooling rapidly as the water beads touched her and leeched away the heat. Her towel was rough and dry, wrapping around her thickly as her feet slipped on the steam moistened tiles and she skidded out of the room.

The receiver was cold in her hand, almost frozen against her flesh.

"Carter." Her voice snapped like a flag whipping in the wind; impatient and irritated.

"Major Carter, he's back."

She hadn't bothered to change into her BDU's; she'd simply barreled right past the guards at the entrance, barely registering their greetings. The grinding of the elevator was painfully slow, her eyes willing the numbers to change faster, her mind silently castrating the morons who'd imposed speed limits on elevators. She ran down the hall way, her sneakers pounding rhythmically on the concrete as she dodged various personnel; solely focused on reaching the infirmary.

And when the double doors of the infirmary loomed into view, she seemed to run out of energy. Like her robotic double, her movements became slower and slower and slower until she ground to a smooth halt directly before the doors, staring blankly at them, her limbs unable to move and propel her the last few steps into the infirmary. Behind her, the sound of personnel talking seemed to magnify, bouncing off the walls and buffeting her as she stared at the unmoving doors.

They opened in a flurry, several harried nurses rushing through, their heels clicking loudly on the concrete as they pushed past her and let the doors swing shut behind them.

But she'd seen him. In the brief moment that the doors had snapped open, she'd caught sight of his back. He'd been wearing a black T shirt, and Janet had been in front of him, the flash of her auburn hair bouncing out from behind his shoulder briefly before she turned and was hidden by his bulk again. Teal'c and Jonas had been standing off to one side, gazing down at him intently. The picture was burnt into her mind; she wondered briefly if in the last few seconds she'd somehow developed a photographic memory, running the image over and over through her mind, focusing on the solid darkness of his back.

He was here.

He was alive.

Her eyes were burning with unshed tears, and she tried to force her frozen limbs to reach out and touch the familiar doors, to push them open with a sudden whoosh and join the others as they crowded around their returned comrade. But something held her back, something indefinable that turned her blood to ice in her veins and splintered her lungs with each breath she took. It turned her tears to acid, and her eyes stung bitterly.

She would not cry. Not here, not now.

A wooden fist raised stiff fingers; the plastic cold beneath the hard and unbending digits. She pushed against the door heavily, the cold surface swinging away from her and revealing the room to her.

Janet's face appeared from behind him, and she smiled briefly at Sam. At her smile, both Teal'c and Jonas glanced across at her, and the figure on the bed turned towards her as well. His movements seemed to slow down, and she stared silently, her mouth compressed tightly as her eyes traveled over the worn features of his face, as familiar to her as the stars above and ground beneath her feet.

She exhaled softly, and let her eyes fluttered closed briefly, sucking her breath in and gathering her courage.

"Welcome back, Sir." The smile was forced and wooden, her eyes desperately trying to read his, to find the person that had been gone for so long.

"Carter," he greeted simply. His voice grated, and she frowned. Something was wrong.

"How... how are you, Colonel?" She was ashamed of the break in her voice, but she stepped forwards strongly, her sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor.

His eyes rested on hers for a second, before traveling over her. Suddenly she was uncomfortably aware of the form fitting jeans and the small red T shirt she'd thrown on as she'd hunted for her car keys. She shifted, and his gaze broke away from hers as he turned to face the back of the room again. She walked around to them, watching his profile carefully as she waited for him to answer.

"I'm fine, Carter. So's the flatmate."

She stared at him blankly, raising her eyebrows uncomprehendingly.

"His name's Kanan," O'Neill continued, turning his head towards her, "and he has a thing for brunettes." His eyes were disturbingly empty as he met her gaze.

Sam swallowed roughly, her breath catching in her throat. No, he couldn't be...

"Sir?"

He didn't bother answering her; the flash of gold lighting up his chocolate eyes in a simple explanation.

"Major Carter, I am Kanan." The distortion of his voice crashed through her ears and ripped apart the slender threads of hope she'd been weaving, hoping to hold onto the dream that everything was okay and they could go back to being who they were before.

o0o

Her latest project lying in pieces before her, Sam stared down blankly at the sheets and tried in vain to convince herself that she really was interested in the suddenly meaningless squiggles before her. The words swam and danced and turned into a reel of film that played over and over before her eyes. O'Neill's face turning towards her soundlessly, his lips moving as he spoke, and then his eyes flashing.

Carter, meet SG-1's fifth member.

She snorted tiredly, burying her face in her hands and tangling her fingers in her hair. Her hair was getting long again; she'd have to cut it soon.

The tread of his boots on the concrete were as soft as a whisper, but she heard them above the gentle hum of the air conditioning flowing through the room.

"What you doing?" His words were soft, almost hesitant.

"We've been given some down time," she started, sitting up straight and focusing her eyes on the paper work before her, "and I've been meaning to go over these schematics for the X-"

"Ah!" he held up his hand, shaking his head. "Sorry, Carter. You know the rules."

The rules.

No discussion of any classified projects or new information. Restricted to certain areas of the base. Only allowed to talk to certain people.

"They're treating you like a prisoner," she snapped suddenly. By the sharp intake of his breath she knew she'd surprised him with her outburst, and she spun on the small chair, turning to face him angrily. "Until they've got their damn politics sorted out-"

"Carter."

She froze and met his gaze silently, and then closed her eyes to hide herself from him. "I'm sorry, Sir."

"For what?" his voice was soft; tender almost.

"For doing this to you," she whispered.

"You didn't do anything to me, Carter. It was my choice."

She opened her eyes, ashamed to feel tears once again prickling behind her lids. She was crying far too much these days. "You don't understand, Sir. I asked you to do it. I know how much you hate them, and I asked you to do it for me. I knew you wouldn't say no."

He sighed slightly, and his gaze skittered away from her, traveling across the walls of her lab until it finally settled on the empty pot where her plant had withered and died somewhere between Daniel's leaving and his abrupt departure. Or had it been during his jaunt with the Tok'ra? "Carter..."

"I'm sorry, Sir," she repeated again, cutting him off and turning back to the papers that were starting to blur behind her vision.

"I wanted to say thank you," he said curtly, surprising her.

She blinked once, frowning, but not turning to face him. "For what?"

"For not giving up on me."

His footsteps disappeared out of the room, and she was left staring at papers now blurred by the tear drops splattering loudly onto their crisp surface.

o0o

As she pulled the Kevlar helmet from her head and ran her hands through her still unruly locks of hair, now damp and matted with sweat and dirt from their mission, she felt her eyes involuntarily scan across the personnel in the gateroom, and then swiftly glancing up to the control room, only relaxing once she saw him standing off to one side in the shadows. He nodded briefly at her, and then disappeared from view, leaving her to greet Hammond who was waiting on a status report of the mission.

"It's done, Sir," she said briskly, nodding formally as she passed her P-90 to the airman waiting for it. "The Lomans have agreed to the trade negotiations, and are waiting for the medical team to arrive."

Hammond nodded tersely, his blue eyes flashing briefly with approval before turning serious again. "Well done, Major. We'll debrief tomorrow morning."

She glanced at him curiously, her fingers stilling on the plastic buckles she'd discreetly been trying to undo. "Sir?"

"Go and get cleaned up, Major, and come to my office."

She nodded silently, marching past him as he dismissed her and heading straight for the changerooms. She knew they had reached a decision about O'Neill, a fact that both scared her and relieved her. Now they'd know where he stood. Now they'd know what was going to happen to him. But at the same time, she was terrified of losing him.

Losing him.

She'd already lost him; to a parasite dwelling in the recesses of his mind. It was one thing to have her Dad as a Tok'ra. It was entirely different thing for O'Neill to be a Tok'ra. Everything in his being rebelled against the invasion of privacy, the possibility of losing total control. O'Neill was a control freak, just like her. She understood the refusal to submit so completely to another's power. To subject oneself to be at the discretion of something that could possibly be as evil as the Goa'uld.

His quiet, almost peaceful acceptance about the Tok'ra currently inhabiting his brain was unsettling. Sam was skittish around him, afraid of the changes he'd undergone since she'd last seen him lying his plastic coffin being pulled through the Stargate.

Kanan stayed out of sight; figuratively of course. She'd only spoken to him once, when he'd introduced himself to her that Wednesday afternoon when O'Neill had been returned to them. She longed to ask O'Neill what had happened, what information Kanan had possessed that had made it so important for him to report. She wanted to know how he felt about the Tok'ra inside him. Or how he really felt about her asking him to sacrifice his freedom for her selfish desire to keep him alive.

He was alive, but she had gained nothing.

The worn BDU's she changed into were fresh and clean against her newly scrubbed skin, the harsh material still chafing slightly despite the degree of wear. She strode confidently into Hammond's office after knocking, relaxing slightly when she realized that other than herself and Hammond, only O'Neill, Teal'c and Jonas were present. She smiled at the other two members of her team, and they returned the gesture tightly, their attention focused on the man standing on the opposite side of the room.

"I'm sure you know why you're all here," Hammond said softly, sitting down behind his desk, his face open as he gazed around at them. They were fortunate with Hammond. The man made no pretences about who he was and what he was capable of; he was as solid a leader as any and Sam felt privileged to work with him.

"Tell them, Sir," O'Neill said softly, and she glanced across at him.

"Colonel O'Neill will remain on Earth," Hammond said at length, "as the Tok'ra liason."

"What does that mean?" Jonas asked.

"It means I'm a diplomat," O'Neill announced. Sam thought she saw a bitter smirk brush across his lips, and stifled a smile at the irony. O'Neill was no diplomat.

"What about SG-1?" Jonas pressed.

"Only four members," O'Neill answered, "Not five. Kanan makes it one too many.

She narrowed her gaze, studying him silently.

"Colonel O'Neill will not be assigned to any SG team," Hammond explained softly. "The risk would be too great, he'd be too big a target."

"But General Carter-" Jonas protested.

"Is not Colonel O'Neill. When Jacob... when he first joined the Tok'ra, very few knew he was a Tau'ri. By the time the information leaked, he was considered more Tok'ra than human." Hammond's eyes jumped across to Sam apologetically, the words digging deeply into her with a grief that surprised her. Yes, her father was more Tok'ra than human these days, and it scared the daylights out of her. She was terrified that would happen to O'Neill. That he would forget his humanity and heritage and become more like the Tok'ra.

"What about his rights?" Sam asked softly.

"Colonel O'Neill is still a citizen of the United States of America, Major. Nothing will change that."

"Yes," she agreed, "but Kanan isn't."

o0o

His car hadn't been driven for a few weeks, and the battery had been suspect as it was. "Looks like I'll need a ride," he sighed, and she watched him kick at one of the tires, a familiar scowl of annoyance briefly crossing his cheeks before it once again fell into the Tok'ra mask of blankness. She hated how his face was so devoid of emotion all the time.

"I'm parked over there." She raised her arm and pointed across the lot, and he sighed in resignation.

"You really need to get a bigger car, Carter. My legs won't fit into that."

She grinned at him easily; it was almost as if they were back to before. Before emotions became an issue and the rumor mill started spinning. Before she had to watch each gesture in case it was taken the wrong way, construed to mean something it didn't. Before she realized that if she didn't control everything around him, it would be very easy to love him.

Before she did love him.

"Sorry, Sir, but there's no way I'm trading her in."

He rolled his eyes and followed her across the lot, walking to the passenger door while she unlocked her door. She looked up at him briefly as she opened her door, and caught the slight smile playing across his lips as he stared down at something.

"What are you smiling at?" she asked, the words bursting out before she had time to think.

"I haven't been in a car for a very long time."

"Even a small, old, good for nothing tub of rust?" she asked innocently, slipping down onto her seat.

He folded himself into the seat next to her, pushing it back until his knees weren't tucked up under his chin and he could shut the door. "It's good to be outside," he said finally as she started the engine.

They were quiet as she drove; she realized his gaze was firmly focused on the scenery as they passed it, though the slight twitching of his lips let her know that he was talking. Talking to Kanan.

"What does Kanan think?" she asked eventually, changing gears as they crawled around a corner.

"About what?" he asked, turning to her.

"Staying here. On Earth."

He was quiet for a few seconds, his eyes unfocused. Then they glowed, and suddenly she become uneasy, deliberately staring at the road and no longer sneaking glances at him. "I am content." Again, the distortion of the voice threw her, and she bit down her lip, the car lurching slightly as she missed the gear and then thrust it in, the sick crunching churning at her gut.

She wanted to ask more, but she didn't want to speak to it. She didn't want to see his eyes glow. She didn't want to hear his voice change. That made it real, the physical proof that he wasn't alone anymore. That he really was blended to something he repulsed.

She wondered how he put up with it.

"What are you doing?" His voice was normal again, and her knuckles relaxed on the steering wheel.

"You'll need food, Sir," she said evenly, pulling the car up against the curb. "We emptied your fridge out."

He nodded as she escaped the small prison her car had become, stepping briskly into the sunshine warming the air around her. "I hope you didn't take all the beer," he commented.

She glanced over at him. "No, Sir. I don't like your beer."

He grinned. "You have no taste, Carter."

"I'm going to argue and say that the fact that you drink that stuff and call it beer is enough proof that you don't have taste."

Rolling his eyes, he followed her into the store.

o0o

They were sitting on his back porch step, her fingers wrapped around a beer bottle, the paper label sticky and wet beneath her hands as the air condensed on the cold glass. She picked absently at the label, pulling it carefully away from the glass.

"The Tok'ra don't have any beer," he said at length, slowly raising his bottle to his lips and taking a deep drink.

"So that's why you decided to stay here," she quipped, lifting her own to her lips and pulling the bitter beverage into her mouth. It was potent; she preferred a milder taste.

"It's good to see the sky again," he sighed, leaning back against the step and resting his bottle on the weathered wood work. "You really know you're off world when you look up and the stars are different."

She nodded in agreement, her elbows resting on a step and supporting her as she leaned backwards and dropped her head to the topmost step, letting her gaze also focus on the heavens above them. Most of the stars were hidden from sight, drowned out by the bright lights of suburbia, but a few twinkled dimly over head, and she stared up at them, letting the mesmerizing flickers of light become a focal point, everything else slowly melting out of existence.

"Do you think Daniel's out there?" she asked softly, not looking at him.

He sighed, and she heard the sound of his beer sloshing in the bottle as he raised it to his lips, the dull sound as he swallowed and then the empty thunk as he replaced the bottle on the deck. "I don't know," he said. "I think so."

She nodded, closing her eyes and cutting off the stars. "I still try to call him sometimes," she confessed.

"I go to his lab," O'Neill admitted. "Some of his things are still there."

"I know," she nodded. "Jonas left them there when he realized whose they were."

O'Neill sighed, and she turned her head on the wooden step it was resting on to gaze across at him. He was still staring at the sky, his gaze far away. "What's it like?" she asked almost curiously.

"What?"

"Being blended."

The glance he graced her with before turning his attention back to the sky was surprised. "You've been blended."

"No," she disagreed, "I was infested. There was nothing mutual in Jolinar's control over me."

He sighed. "I never realized how angry the Tok'ra were with Jolinar for doing that to you. It's against the core reason of the rebellion."

She didn't answer, simply remained silent.

"It's... it's not what I thought it would be," he confessed at last, and she heard the soft smile on his voice. "I can still remember the way it felt when Hathor put that Goa'uld in me, the way it made me a prisoner..."

"I didn't know you remembered that," she admitted.

"I do," he said softly. "It made me understand what happened to you."

She sighed her acknowledgement of his words. "Are you happy, Sir?"

He shifted on the step; she felt the movement of his weight and opened her eyes to look at him again, staring up into his face that was now looking down at her as he pulled himself upright on the step. His gaze was almost curious as he looked down at her. She blushed under his scrutiny and pulled herself up, the moment shattered between them as surely as if she'd dropped her beer on the concrete of his garden path. "It's getting late, Sir," she mumbled, rising to her feet and starting back up the steps.

"Carter, wait." His hand caught her arm, his fingers warm and rough against the chilled skin.

"I should get going," she whispered tightly, her breath misting slightly in front of her face. Winter was coming; soon she'd be wearing sweaters and his fingers wouldn't be able to rest on the coolness of her skin, warming her with his touch.

He nodded, dropping his hand. "Thanks for the ride, Carter."

"That's okay, Sir," she pulled away, reaching for his screen door. "I'll pick you up Monday morning, if you like."

"That'd be good, thanks."

She smiled cautiously at him, and his own lips quirked slightly in the dim glow of his porch light. "See you Monday, Sir," she whispered.

"Monday," he echoed as the screen door slammed behind her and she almost ran through his house, stepping into the welcoming darkness of his front lawn, feeling strangely disappointed.

o0o

He'd never been a loner before, she thought as she spied him sitting by himself in a corner. Despite not being very close to people, he'd had a lot of friends. People he'd played hockey with. The jarheads he worked out with in the gym. A few of the team leaders who he'd met up with occasionally to gripe about the difficulties of command.

And it wasn't that he'd deliberately pushed anyone away, she realized dimly, it was just that no one knew how to act around him. No one knew how to talk to him. She wondered again how he really felt about the Tok'ra inside him, that she so rarely saw. She was aware that Kanan didn't come to the foreground when she was around, and knew it was probably because of her reaction to him. But despite her pseudo denial about the Tok'ra's presence, she was morbidly curious about Kanan. And about the man he now co-existed with.

She dropped her tray onto the table and slipped onto the seat across from him. He glanced up, his face carefully guarded until he saw it was her and it relaxed into a slight welcome. "Carter. Nice to see you."

"You too, Sir," she said politely, unwrapping her sandwiches.

"I read your mission report," he commented, idly scooping a grape into his mouth as he watched her wrestle with the cling wrap.

She glanced up at him, and felt a rare smile part her lips. "I was terrified," she admitted.

"Hammond was happy," he said, nodding his head. "You don't have anything to worry about, Carter. You'll do fine."

"It helped having Teal'c there," she grinned shyly, raising the bread to her mouth to take a bite. "Thank you, Sir."

He raised his eyebrows. "Carter, every time we talk, we either apologize for something or say thank you for something."

She shrugged, levity disappearing as she gazed at him over her blue Jello. "I do have a lot to say thank you to you for," she said softly. "You've taught me so much about command-"

"That was my job, Carter."

She smiled at him again. "You went above and beyond duty, Sir."

His eyes were intense. "No, Carter, we never went beyond duty."

Her gaze flitted down to her sandwich, and she bit her lip as she gazed back up at him. "What about now?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I don't know, Carter. Things have changed."

She sighed and picked at her sandwich. She rose to her feet, abandoning her tray, her chair, him... her life. "I'm sorry, Sir, I can't do this."

o0o

She was in the bath tub when the phone trilled. Closing her eyes, she willed the noise away, sinking lower into the water, trying to drown the noise out. The water was tepid as it spilled over her breasts and shoulders; she shivered and opened her eyes, sitting upright in the tub and irritably batting away several bubbles clinging to her wet skin. She grabbed a towel as she left the bathroom and jogged towards the phone, picking it up and cradling the cold plastic beneath her ear as she fumbled with her towel. "Carter."

"It's me, Carter."

"Colonel," she stuttered, grabbing at the phone with her hand.

"This isn't a bad time, is it?"

"Uh.. no, no it's not. Sir."

Holding the phone with her chin again, she pulled the towel around her body and sank onto her couch, her skin deliciously damp against the softness, shivering as the cool air touched her arms and calves.

"I... I need to talk to you, Carter."

"Sir?"

"There's... There's stuff we need to talk about."

She swallowed hesitantly, her fingers tangling tightly into the towel. "Okay," she agreed hesitantly.

"Not on the phone. We can't... I can't..."

"Sir?"

"Where can we go?"

"What do you mean?"

"We need to go somewhere so that Kanan can talk to you."

Kanan can talk to you.

The words pounded dully through her system.

"I don't want to talk to him," she said softly, closing her eyes.

"Carter.. Sam... you have to."

"No," she said firmly. "No. I don't... I can't do this, Sir. I'm sorry."

"Carter-"

She hung the phone up; it clicked dully into place on its cradle. She sat staring at it for a long time.